This is a concise introduction to the history of the Arab people. It is fairly easy to read, yet comprehensive; interesting, yet dispassionate. Albert Hourani does an excellent job presenting an overall picture of Arab history and society. I particularly enjoyed how this book considers history as more than a mere collection of events and dates or the conquests of kings. Rather, for every historical period, it attempts to paint a picture of the lives of ordinary people. Thus we learn about education, religion, law, marriage, and other aspects of society. This is a major strength of the book.
Naturally, in a book about Arab history, a great deal of emphasis is put on Islamic religion, which is perhaps the most potent force shaping Arab history and culture. In a way therefore this book also offers an excellent introduction to Islam and Islamic history. Nevertheless, I would have liked to see more material about pre-Islamic times. Furthermore, while the title "Arab peoples" acknowledges the fact that most of the modern-day "Arabs" are descended from non-Arabs who at some point adopted Arab language and culture, this point is not made explicit in the text, and the pre-Arab history of these peoples is ignored. Having said that, I admit that it is impossible to include any more information about Arab history in the same number of pages (500), making this book a definite accomplishment. It is an excellent and readable introduction to Arab history, and a lead to other more specialized books (listed in the 27-page bibliography). The index alone reads like a who's who in Arab history.